They use the strongest men to cut,
The fleet to carve, the weak to smooth,
The dying breathe the dust and choke
On leaden lodes and metal veins.
They pile the spent in pits of lime,
Their bodies covered quick and deep.
The ones who make eternal works –
The slaves and workers – pay their tax.
The maze beneath the palace walls:
In marble, onyx, granite, bones.
The mines behind the Empire’s rise:
The tailings heaps which hide its graves.
They mark the cost of their success:
These kings and heroes, rich and blessed.
The Minotaur, he roamed the land,
And time again he saw his hand:
The empty fields and measured tracts,
The creeping maze of polished stone,
A beast with eyes as bright as stars,
And countless monsters bursting life.
He saw the cages rising high,
And Minotaurs that feasted well.
He overheard some words of death,
And tasted rancid, reeking air.
He saw the grabbing creatures fall,
He saw how he had turned them all.
And from the freedom of the moors,
At last he’d found his prison walls.
He thought the moor would never end.
He ran until his feet were raw,
Until he left a trail of blood
Congealing, black as caves at night.
This freedom broke just like his heart:
It severed joy and shattered veins.
He ran until the hurting ceased,
Until he had no more to give.
And there just where the bleeding stopped
The moorland track had turned to grass,
And reached the edge of high sea cliffs.
He stopped and stared into the waves.
The ocean heaved and rolled its dead,
The waters grey and thick with lead.
He runs the moor on gritstone paths,
The heather pollen thick in eyes
Unused to sun and distant skies.
He fears his shadow on the quartz.
He’d built an image of the breeze,
But now, at last, he feels her touch.
He looks about but cannot see
The fingers running through his mane.
He tastes the blood upon his tongue.
His heart is bursting through his throat.
The moorland paths run on and on,
Across a world un-walled, unknown.
Below the earth he stood up proud,
But here – so small – his head is bowed.
To love the beauty of the world:
How such a beast as this could live.
The nightingales and orange groves:
Beneath them all the fear and loss.
To love the mystery and the space:
The measurement of prison walls.
The moorland tops where skylarks rise
Above economies of death.
To love the way we grasp at truth:
Its horns are sharp and black with blood.
The only day we have is this.
The gods have made these memories strong.
The sun will rise beneath the earth.
The daily horrors count our worth.
In every pit there waits a beast
To break your will and snap your back,
To feast on every fear you bring:
And fears you’ll bring, and feast it will.
Just take the rope and lower away
And go in search of horns and snout,
And breath the stench of mustard gas,
And primal stew of sacrifice.
You need that beast to drag you on,
To shake you from the placid ways.
Its monstrous and divided lusts
Compel you to prepare for life.
For round the next uncertain bend
It just might be that this will end.
These Minotaurs: the lost and sad,
The broken bodied, buried, burnt.
These fragments of the tales and fears
Are scattered over ancients’ seas.
These Minotaurs: so full of pride,
Of lust, of frail and short-lived reign.
These horrors spawned which rise and hate
And tear the spirit from the heart.
These Minotaurs: the innocent
Chthonic children, bursting free.
The gods of tunnels, formed and planned.
The gods of monsters yet to be.
These Minotaurs which question us.
These Minotaurs betrayed by us.
The town wore dust as some wear skies,
Its buildings barely stood on props.
The crumbling had been centuries long.
A rootless people drifted through.
Around the town the maquis spread
Obscuring tablets pressed with tales,
And ancient bricks which burnt and broke:
The merest trace of palace walls.
Its stories scattered through the world,
With sails for wings and widening eyes.
They drifted off beyond the earth,
Became a breath, became a fear.
The truth lies lost beneath the scrub:
A pile of bones reduced to chalk.
(The title is from Seneca: Phaedra, 173ff)
From off the moors I’ve heard your moans,
And seen the blood stains on the stones,
The howl of fearful winter storms:
Above the doors I’ve seen the charms.
But were you ever any more
Than breath exhaled in voiceless awe?
A thought which lingered on too long,
And left the anguish clinging on?
And did you taste the cavern’s air:
The dampness, rock and trapped despair?
Your monstrous counting of the space:
The skeletal wrecks through which you pace.
And did the living curse your name,
And weep as lovers fed your shame?
The moon sits by her dancing maze
And spins her thread like spider’s silk.
She speaks of heroes, dreams of death,
And shows the dancers where to tread.
The planets one by one step up
And take the thread and dance the maze.
They face the sky and vault him high:
His horns are sharp and stained with blood.
The dancers keep a pounding beat,
They feel the earth beneath them groan.
The sky demands his sacrifice:
He tastes the pulse within them flow.
The golden crown of Thetis glints.
The moon will weep to feel its weight.
The seam runs through the field, beneath
The wall, beneath the house, beneath
The fear of darkness and of loss.
The seam is deep and rich and wide.
Around the Earth, throughout our time
The seam is dredged and scraped and blown.
The fires it lights explode the night.
The dressing floors are never still.
Beneath the moor the tunnelling spins,
Beneath the wilds made wilder still,
Beneath the need to feed the fires,
The need to feed the landlord’s will.
It merges, weights and drags us down,
Malformed we’re trapped: part beast, part god.
It’s just the same wherever cast,
The skeletal remains of beasts,
The broken doors, and backs, and will,
And eyes which shine at thoughts of death.
The innocent will take the blame.
The ones without will give it all:
The miners, herders, old folk, kids.
The shoeless walk the hardest path.
And deep below the brutal horns
Are gouging at another throat,
And taking yet another life,
And making yet another pound.
The creature knows the way of things,
It counts its truths and deems them fair.
To gods we are forgotten beasts
Whose only sacrifice is time.
We play, we suffer, pointlessly:
We know that look of weary rage.
If we were older, you and I,
A fight like this would seem absurd.
We’d sit together, spin our yarns,
And cling to deeds that once meant all.
I see the scars about your face,
The way you sway and hesitate.
You seem too heavy on your feet.
You don’t react, you hardly move.
No questions, cries or final words.
No mercy begged, no mercy shown.
I am a minotaur: I stand.
I am a minotaur: I crouch.
I am a minotaur: I hide.
I am a minotaur: I stride.
They’ll find a way to cut me down.
They’ll work their magic through the cracks
And soon they’ll have me by the throat
And drag me out to face their fear.
I am a minotaur: I cry.
I am a minotaur: I shake.
I am a minotaur: I bleed.
I am a minotaur: I know.
I hear his creeping, sandaled feet,
This death the gods have planned for me.
Up from the sickly flowers of lead –
Whose blueish petals pale and drooped
Are soaked in black and matted blood –
The horns of consecration rise.
A liminal state of recompense
For ancient slights in sacrifice:
A creature born to neither form
Is left to wander through the dark.
Galena glints and burns within.
The furnace tipped towards the south,
And molten metal flows through time:
The monster slips between two states.
The flowers are gathered up and crushed.
Amongst the mines a new bull reigns.
Amongst the marble and the wax
I sketched geometries of traps,
Created endless loops and chains.
I calibrated depths of fear.
I devised a maze exquisitely formed,
A stone philosophy of pain,
So subtle none could ever leave,
Its boundless horrors measured in.
And deeper down the screaming rooms,
Would echo all the terror out.
The final sacrificial cries
Would fill the golden palace nights.
Its heart became a dancing ground:
A bloodied chorus stamped with death.
I’ve heard the bunyip howl in swamps,
Its screams as loud as hurricanes.
I’ve seen the creatures crouch and hide,
As bunyip footsteps shake the earth.
I’ve felt the dread of moonless nights
In forests writhing, thick with snakes,
Majestics shrieking from the trees,
The sounds of death and feeding life.
I’ve woken in the dark of dawn,
My mind ablaze with wordless fears,
Anxieties dragging monsters out.
From every shadow: clashing teeth
And now I walk into the maze,
To find the beast and face it down.
Across the moors in evening mist
The keeper drifts by candlelight.
His coat as dark as sodden peat,
His eyes as empty as the stars.
The burning fires around the works
Can’t drown the moans from deep below.
The keeper traces Saturn’s path,
And whispers soft protection prayers.
He walks on by the shattered men.
Unseen his candle flickers on.
Three thousand years and more he’s been
The keeper of the fear beneath.
He looks at Taurus through the mist,
Its horns are hidden, the moans are stilled.
His jacket, buttoned tight and neat,
A face of honour, proud and true,
An air of quiet dignity:
A man for all that they might say.
He stands to face the hero’s sword.
He offers up his throat quite calm.
His death was written long before.
His life was made to take that thrust.
As Erskine Childers said “shoot true”.
He knew the world would judge him well –
Might even call this martyrdom.
He stares the man right in the eyes.
The monster’s death was not the end:
They severed his head, then spun their lies.